October 2, 2012

The Hobart Dirty Dozen (with a wet and windy warm-up)

Dan taps away on the Waterworks climb with Mt. Wellington in the background.

Dan taps away on the Waterworks climb with Mt. Wellington in the background.

This post is a little longer than normal — it was a big weekend. If you’d like to skip directly to the section about the Dirty Dozen, I won’t be offended — just follow this link.

Earlier this year David Blom and I held the first ever Melbourne Dirty Dozen – a tough ride that took in 12 of Melbourne’s toughest climbs. It was a ride inspired by the original Dirty Dozen held in Pittsburgh since 1983 and it didn’t take long for other states to take inspiration from our version.

Adam Williss and Dahondude started planning the Adelaide Dirty Dozen which was held on September 1. And down on the Apple Isle Marc Durdin was putting together a local version that he hoped would rival (or even out-do) our efforts in Melbourne.

I had to see if he’d succeeded.

Day 1: Getting to Hobart

The bike got to Hobart in one piece, figuratively speaking.

The bike got to Hobart in one piece, figuratively speaking.

My partner Sharon and I flew over to Hobart on Friday morning … but not before the first bit of drama for the trip. As I passed through the security scanners at Tullamarine Airport, a security officer grabbed my backpack and asked me if it was mine. When I said it was he asked: ‘Do you happen to have a multitool in there by any chance?’

Idiot.

In my haste to get packed the previous night I’d forgotten to put my multitool in my bike bag. The security officer explained my options: I could post it to myself in Hobart (‘I need it later today’), I could throw it away (I didn’t really want to buy a new one) or I could go back and check my backpack in as well.

So 10 minutes and $40 later I went through the security checkpoint for the second time that morning, a lesson learned the hard way.

At Hobart airport we collected my bike bag and headed to the hotel. Sharon and I spent Friday afternoon walking in and around Hobart and generally doing as little as possible, just grateful for the chance to relax and unwind. I set my bike up, worried the flight over would have caused some damage despite my careful packing efforts the night before. Thankfully everything seemed to be in order and I was ready to go for the following morning.

Day 2: Five of Eight of Ten

Climbing the final section of Mt. Rumney.

Climbing the final section of Mt. Rumney.

On Saturday morning I woke early, slammed down some breakfast and went to get dressed … only to discover I didn’t have any bike shorts with me.

Idiot.

I searched high and low, in and under furniture and eventually realised I must have left them at home. It was too early to head down to the bike shop to buy some and so I was going to have to improvise. I put on several layers of underwear as padding and threw my full-length leggings over the top. It was far from a perfect scenario and, realistically, I was expecting to start chafing within the first few kilometres.

If only the weather had been nice all day.

If only the weather had been this nice all day.

I met ride organisers Marc Durdin and Dan Wood and about 15 others at Salamanca Place at 8am and we all rolled out together. The Dirty Dozen itself was to be held on Sunday but Marc had created a sort-of festival of cycling spread over three stages under the heading Hobart 10,000. As you might have guessed, the goal was to climb 10,000 vertical metres in three days. Ouch.

The first stage of the event, Saturday morning’s, was to be a lazy 150km ride taking in eight of the ten best climbs in Hobart. I was a little apprehensive about the ride, partially because the final climb of the day was the 11km climb up to Mt. Wellington, partially because I wanted to stay relatively fresh for the Dirty Dozen, and partially because of some scary time limits Marc had imposed for each climb.

On the website he’d listed how long we’d be given for each climb before the group would push on … regardless of whether everyone had made it or not. And the time limits weren’t particulularly generous either — I’d be pushing hard up every one of the eight climbs just to stay with the bunch.

Trying to stay with the bunch on the first climb of the day.

Trying to stay with the bunch on the first climb of the day, Mt. Nelson.

The first designated climb of the day was the lovely Mt. Nelson, a not-too-steep climb of 3.9km that features a number of fantastic switchbacks. As we climbed away from Sandy Bay Road and the Derwent River I tried to soak in the views, but, for the most part, I was too busy trying not to get dropped.

I got to the top having pushed quite hard to stay in contention before Marc came up behind and said ‘you guys went a minute faster than you needed to! Take it easy!’ From then on my mission was a simple one: stay with Marc. He was the one with the watch, and he was hardly likely to lead the bunch on to the next climb before he finished the one he was on.

After the first climb we worked our way through a long transfer, across the Tasman Bridge toward Mt. Rumney. (Someone, must have made a joke linking this mountain with the Republican candidate for the US presidency, right?)

With Operation Follow-Marc in my head I pushed into the Mt. Rumney climb. I managed to stay within a couple bike lengths of him the whole way up, enjoying the quiet, picturesque scenery as I did. Toward the top of the climb, the road turned to dirt (see photo above) but we pushed on to the telephone towers at the top to soak in the terrific views on either side of the mountain.

Views from the summit of Mt. Rumney.

Views from the summit of Mt. Rumney.

Up until this point, the weather had been superb. Sure it was a bit chilly, but the sun was out, there was very little wind and it was decidedly dry. All of that would change drastically in the coming hours, starting first with the wind.

As we made our way toward Richmond and the third climb of the day, Grasstree Hill, we were hit with squally mostly-headwinds. The bunch split into several groups and it was a tough, largely unenjoyable slog north. We reached the start of the third climb and as soon as we started climbing I knew I was in a bit of trouble.

I couldn’t really hold Marc’s wheel without pushing myself to a level that felt like it would jeopardise my chances of completing the day’s ride … let alone the Dirty Dozen the next day. I found myself dropping off the back, hoping I’d be able to finish close enough to the main bunch that they’d wait for me.

When I got to the top of the third terrific climb of the day the others were still there and I considered myself lucky. But as I took my jacket off and tried to put it in my musette, the bunch rolled out, sticking tightly to the pre-determined time limits. I figured I’d be able to catch them on the descent but the longer it went on the more it became clear that wasn’t the case.

Climbing Grasstree Hill.

Climbing Grasstree Hill.

Heading south then west back toward Hobart I had to work hard to keep the bunch in view, lest they take a turn and I find myself in the Tasmanian wilderness by myself. It took me nearly 15km to catch the group as they worked their way through Moonah north of Hobart. As I caught the group after half an hour of solo chasing, I breathed a huge sigh of relief.

And then it started to rain. Gone was the friendly blue sky and in it’s place was a seething mass of grey clouds, some of which obscured Mt. Wellington.

We made our way to Queens Domain for climb #4, getting ever wetter and ever colder as we did. Despite being a few bike lengths back from the main group, I was able to stay in contention and reached the top at much the same time as the others.

During my solo chase and after the rain started to fall, I’d entertained thoughts of cutting the ride short. There were several incentives: I would save myself for the following day, I could go and spend some time with Sharon who’d made the trip over to support me and, if I was back in time, I could watch the AFL grand final.

So when the concensus at the top of the Domain climb was to abandon the day after one more climb I was slightly relieved. It would mean missing out on the climb up Mt. Wellington — which I was looking forward to, at least before the rain — but given I was drenched from head to toe and starting to get cold, the warm, dry motel room was starting to look pretty appealing.

'Alright, this isn't fun anymore.'

‘Alright, this isn’t fun anymore.’ (Image: Dan Wood)

The final climb of the shortened day was Strickland which works its way up the lower slopes of Mt. Wellington. Apparently you can actually continue beyond the top of the Strickland climb to get on to the main Wellington climb, but on Saturday just the first section was enough.

With the cold and wet dampening everyone’s enthusiasm the time limit for the last climb was dropped and Marc himself fell off the back slightly. Strangely, Strickland was one of the most enjoyable climbs of the day for me, thanks to a slightly more pedestrian pace and the knowledge that, after getting through this climb, I’d be able to head back to the motel and get warm.

But before that I’d have to descend Strickland.

Now, I’ve been cold on descents before. The first time I climbed Mt. Donna Buang it was 24°C  at the base and I figured I’d be fine in just shorts and a short sleeve jersey. The descent that day was the coldest I’ve ever been on the bike. That was before Saturday.

A quick bite to eat before the freezing descent of Strickland.

A quick bite to eat before the freezing descent of Strickland. (Image: Dan Wood)

I’ve never been so cold that, as well as not being able to feel my face, fingers or toes, I was actually shivering uncontrollably while descending at 50km/h+. It wasn’t the most pleasant feeling of all time. When the road flattened out I bade the others farewell — of the nearly 20 that started only 8 got through the five climbs — and headed back to the motel.

When I got back Sharon was out for a walk so I went to reception, soaked to the bone and shivering like crazy and asked to be let into the room. At least that’s what I tried to ask. In reality, all that came out was something like ‘Partner out … room 11 … cold … key?’ I knew what I wanted to say but my face wasn’t cooperating.

Sharon arrived as I was hauling myself into the room and stripping off to get in the shower. Surprisingly my makeshift knicks had done the trick … or at least I didn’t feel the chafing over the almost-hypothermia I was suffering.

The hot water ran out before I was warm and it took half an hour of lying in the motel bed, fully clothed, electric blanket set to max, with Sharon holding me before I stopped shivering. I had tried sending out a tweet as soon as I got out of the shower but I couldn’t even swipe the lock off the home screen on my phone, let alone type out a message:

Coldest I've ever been in my life. Soaked to the bone. Utterly horrendous weather. Took me 20 mins to write this. #h10k #dirtydozen
@climbingcyclist
Matt de Neef

I’ve never been that cold in my life and I never want to be that cold again. The combination of being soaked through, a fast descent and temperatures that were close to zero wasn’t particularly healthy.

My Strava file from day two can be found here.

Day 3: The Dirty Dozen

The weather looked promising on Sunday morning ... but would it hold out?

The weather looked promising on Sunday morning … but would it hold out?

This was it. The main event. The reason we’d made the trip to Hobart in the first place … and I was having second thoughts. Sharon had to check us out of the motel at 10am meaning if I got as wet and cold as I had the previous day, I’d have no way real way of getting warm. The Bureau of Meteorology had predicted showers in the morning so it was with some trepidation that I made my way to Salamanca Place to meet the others at 7am. Thankfully Sharon had managed to buy me some bike shorts the previous afternoon so I didn’t have to resort to the same tactics I had the previous day.

Where 20 had started the Saturday’s ‘warm-up’ (totally inappropriate given the way the day ended), only 10 turned up to start the Dirty Dozen. Notably, Marc Durdin himself was absent due to an illness in the family and it was left to Dan Wood to lead the charge.

I’d had a brief look at some of the climb stats the previous night but numbers on a webpage really don’t give you a sense of just how hard a climb is going to be. The first three climbs of the day — Nicholas, Marlborough and Enterprise — were in close proximity to one another, coming off Sandy Bay Road in Hobart’s south east. All three of the climbs were brutally steep, well over 10% for most of their length with 20%+ pinches, and all set the tone for a long, tough day in the saddle. Luckily, all three climbs also rewarded us with tremendous views of Hobart and the Derwent River.

It's always worth climbing a hill when the views from the top are this good.

It’s always worth climbing a hill when the views from the top are this good.

After the first three climbs of the day we made our way over to Waterworks. While this 4.4km climb wasn’t as steep as the three climbs we’d already tackled (7.7% average), the road surface was quite rough, meaning we got little value for our pedal strokes. Then again, the views were just fantastic. Riding through thick, native bush, with no cars around, it was hard to remember we were less than 5km from Hobart’s CBD (see photo at the top).

As the road flattened off we made our way to the second half of the Waterworks climb — Chimney Pot. This one-lane, barely sealed, moss-covered fire track wound its way steeply up the mountain to a telephone tower where we all regrouped. The descent might have been rough, littered with potholes and slippery from the moss, but I didn’t mind too much, thanks to the terrific views of a snow- and cloud-covered Mt. Wellington in the background.

Descending Chimney Pot with a snow-capped Mt. Wellington in the background.

Descending Chimney Pot with Mt. Wellington in the background.

Like Waterworks and Chimney Pot, the road surface on climb #5 — Old Farm Road – was pretty sketchy in places. And, with an average gradient of 11.8% over 1.2km this was no walk in the park.

In one sense I was starting to get used to the steep roads – used to grinding away in my 34×25, wishing I had another couple teeth on my cassette. On the other hand, I was starting to tire and the prospect of tackling another seven hills of similarly insane gradient wasn’t entirely appealing.

After descending Old Farm safely we made our way back toward Hobart via Hillborough. This sixth climb of the day might only have been 700m long but at 13.6% it more than earnt its place in the Dirty Dozen. Ouch.

By the time we reached Liverpool and Forest, climb #7, I was really starting to fatigue. The long, straight grind up Forest Road after the painfully steep switchbacks of Liverpool Street seemed to go on forever.

Sam monsters the Liverpool Street switchbacks ... with a 39x25!

Sam monsters the Liverpool Street switchbacks … with a 39×25! (Image: Dan Wood)

One thing I didn’t expect of the Dirty Dozen was just how much climbing there would be between designated climbs. On several occasions we climbed 10% pinches between climbs, at least once we hit 20% between climbs and, between climbs 7 and 8, Dan threw in a 30% pinch just for a laugh.

Dubbed Knocklofty Madness on Strava this short pinch is more or less a footpath up the side of an impossibly steep embankment. I distinctly remember hitting the bottom and thinking ‘I’m just not going to make this’ but I pushed on and it took all of my strength just to keep from falling over. Utter madness.

That path to the right of the railing is steep ... 30% gradient steep.

That path to the right of the railing is steep … 30% gradient steep.

With seven climbs in the bag, it was time to visit the combination of Mellifont and Mt. Stuart. I saw the beast that is Mellifont Street coming but didn’t realise until I hit the base of it just how incredibly steep it was. Dan assured us it had a gradient of 30% and I wasn’t about to argue. The thing was bloody steep. Stupidly steep. How-am-I-going-to-get-up-this-without-snapping-my-chain-or-my-knees steep.

But, somehow, I managed to drag myself up that first hellish pinch, only to be smacked in the face with the rest of the 10%+ climb to the Mt. Stuart lookout. For the next kilometre of so I was buried deep in the pain cave, off the back of the group, trying to keep the cranks turning. Thankfully, the view from the top, in the Mt. Stuart Park was worth the effort. Probably.

The view from Mt. Stuart lookout.

The view from Mt. Stuart lookout.

Looking at Strava I can see that we made our way north to Lenah Valley after the Mt. Stuart climb to tackle Amy Street and Girrabong Road. Truth be told, I don’t remember much of those two climbs other than the fact they were bloody steep, I was hurting and I was well and truly counting down the climbs we had left.

With 10 climbs in the bag it was time for a quick lunch break at Rosetta Bakery and Store … the only bakery I’ve ever seen that doesn’t have anywhere to sit. Instead, the eight or nine of us sat outside on the footpath, psyching ourselves up for the final two climbs of the day.

Throughout the day I’d heard the local riders talk to each other about how hard the upcoming climbs were and part of me wanted to listen while another part was trying not to. Having not ridden any of the climbs was a bit of a mixed blessing: on one hand, I didn’t know where any of the climbs finished so I was just able to focus on finding a rhythm — if that’s possible on a 15% slope at 5km/h — rather than anticipating the finish. On the other hand, I didn’t know where any of the false-flats were so I couldn’t tell myself ‘right, just get through this bit and then you can rest.’

But as I sat at the bakery eating a muffin and listening to others talk about the last two climbs, I took a glimpse at the stats on the Hobart 10,000 page. The penultimate climb was 3.5km at 8.1% and the final climb of the day, a painful 4.3km at 9.0%. As soon as I saw that, part of me wished I hadn’t checked.

The view as we rode between Amy Street and Girrabong Road.

The view as we rode between Amy Street and Girrabong Road.

After lunch we rolled out toward Chigwell and the start of climb #11: Collinsvale. The gradient of 8% actually felt quite reasonable after the bevy of 10%+ gradients we’d conquered earlier in the day, but with fatigue and lactic acid controlling my legs, I was happy just turning the cranks over and moving gradually toward the top.

Most of the group powered on ahead of me and I was left to slog it out alone, but I didn’t really mind. For one, the road to Collinsvale was probably the most scenic part of the day, particularly in the second half of the climb. I was able to enjoy the views over large sweeping valleys all the while winding my way up the quiet, narrow country road. Amazing.

At the top of Collinsvale Road one rider bailed and it was left to the eight of us to tackle the final climb of the day: Collins Cap.

One of the great views from the Collinsvale climb.

One of the great views from the Collinsvale climb.

The climb started off reasonably easily and I was able to stay with some of the group and chat about the ride thus far. But then the gradient kicked up beyond 10% and it was back to the grind. I’d heard about how that climb seems to go on forever but in those final moments of the day, it never felt like a drag. Sure, it was tough going, but I knew I only had to get through those last few kays and I’d be done. It’s amazing how your mindset can change when your objective is within reach.

I reached the top of the climb with a feeling of total satisfaction — it had been a long, hard day, but somehow I’d gotten through it in one piece. We’d started the day with 10 riders and 8 of us made it to the top of the Collins Cap climb — a great effort by all. After taking a couple of photos we rolled back down the hill, back up the short rise to Collinsvale then back down to Hobart, following the Intercity Cycleway into town.

Final climb of the day!

Final climb of the day!

There were many things I enjoyed about the Hobart Dirty Dozen, not least the fact the weather behaved itself. We had blue skies all day and not a hint of rain, despite the forecast of showers. I also enjoyed the fact there were no time limits like there had been the previous day. This removed some of the pressure and meant I could grind away at a pace I was ‘comfortable’ with.

It was a fantastic effort from all the guys to get through the ride but there are a couple of shout-outs I’d like to give out in particular. Well done to Sam who got through the entire Dirty Dozen on a freaking 39×25 setup. How he managed to do that I have no idea, but I do know that he was first up nearly every climb (if not all of them) — a truly spectacular peformance. Well done!

And well done to Murray Campbell, the only other Victorian to make the trip across Bass Strait. After getting split off from the rest of the group on Saturday, Murray pushed on, despite the horrendous conditions, getting in an epic 150km ride with roughly 2,500m of climbing. He then backed up on the Sunday, completing the Dirty Dozen as well.

Thanks very much to Marc and Dan for organising and running a great couple days’ riding. The climbs were plain evil at times, but they were always interesting and rewarding. Thanks very much! Thanks too to the other guys in the bunch for being so friendly and welcoming to us mainlanders. There seems to be a pretty awesome cycling culture down in Hobart and I’m definitely keen to come back down at some point.

Eight of us finished the first Hobart Dirty Dozen. (Image: Dan Wood)

Eight of us finished the first Hobart Dirty Dozen. (Image: Dan Wood)

And, of course, thanks to Sharon for coming down for the weekend and for entertaining herself while I was out freezing to death and/or flogging myself on the various hills around Hobart.

And now to the question a number of you have asked me already, and one that a number of the Hobart guys asked me throughout the day: how did it compare to the Melbourne Dirty Dozen? In short: much harder. Most of the climbs were longer and steeper than in our edition and with plenty of climbing between designated climbs, it was a long, draining day.

Will we make the Melbourne version harder as a result? There are good arguments either way and Blommy and I are discussing that now. If you’ve got thoughts either way, climbs you’d like to see added to or removed from the Melbourne version, or any other feedback, do let us know.

As always, you can get in touch through Facebook, Twitter or email. You can also follow me (Matt) on Strava if you like and if you’d like to subscribe to the free Climbing Cyclist email, you can do so here.

Thanks very much for reading and until next time, please stay safe on the roads.

My Strava file from day three can be found here.

Further reading:

19 Comments

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  1. Drew B / Oct 3 2012

    Awesome write up Matt, great to read something that really wraps up the feelings of most of us on the ride. Hopefully we’ll see you down for a Wellington ascent before too long

    • Matt / Oct 4 2012

      Thanks Drew! I hope to be back before too long … :)

  2. Sam J / Oct 2 2012

    Great write up Matt

    Looking forward to next years adventure!

  3. Marc Durdin / Oct 2 2012

    What an awesome write up! Thanks heaps for coming along and participating and even more for writing it up so well. My write up was fairly lacklustre in comparison ;-)

    I’m sorry we left you behind on Saturday: I was having trouble keeping track of who was in which group and with some eager beavers up front it didn’t quite go to plan. And in all honesty, it might have been better had we skipped Strickland given the weather, but at least it was an “experience”!

    Also a shame you couldn’t come along on Stage 3: this stage worked out really well, and only Murray got lost (not really!) I am amazed at some of the boys who put in serious times up Wellington after the previous two stages!

    • Matt / Oct 2 2012

      Thanks Marc! Don’t worry about Saturday — it all worked out fine in the end! Plus it’s always hard trying to manage different riders of different abilities … I’m just annoyed I was at the back! Glad stage 3 went well too … disappointed I missed it but I’ll definitely be back!

  4. Murray Campbell / Oct 2 2012

    Hi Matt,
    Thanks – it was an awesome time but pity you couldn’t participate in the double of Mt. Wellington. It was hard going but got there somehow! Mt. Wellington feels very much like Mt. Buffalo and has its ups and downs but the descent is rewarding though the Tasmanian’s hate the descent! The banned Strava segment record is 10min?? and I descended in 12mins 32secs – super super bumpy and fast!

    You weren’t the only one being an “idiot” or things going wrong. Dried my clothes as good as possible and went to get into cycling gear Sunday and found my jersey all wet still in a bag (idiot!!)! My heart sunk but luckily it dried out during the day. Plus my speedo/HR/Cadence died on the Friday so that didn’t help!

    See you at some point back in Vic :)

    • Matt / Oct 2 2012

      Another awesome effort Murray – well done! I’m definitely keen to head back and do Wellington at some point. And yep, see you for a ride soon!

  5. Anthony Rochester / Oct 2 2012

    Excellent write-up. I was the one that abandoned before the last two climbs of the dirty dozen, I was feeling pretty sore. Hopefully there will be a few more people next year. If it was up to me I’d tone the whole event down a bit but that’s probably because I’m a bit of a weakling.

    • Matt / Oct 2 2012

      Thanks Anthony! You should come over for the Melbourne version – it’s a little more tame than the Hobart one! :)

  6. eatmorelard / Oct 2 2012

    Time to add Invermay Rd to the Melbourne edition – http://app.strava.com/segments/793651

    • Matt / Oct 2 2012

      I reckon you’re right EML. We’ve got a couple ideas up our sleeves. Hope to see you down here for the next one! ;)

  7. Lachlan / Oct 2 2012

    Perhaps you could use the Melbourne event as an unofficial qualifier for the Hobart one? So if you didn’t finish the Melbourne one, to not attempt the Hobart one, and if you complete the Hobart one – then you’re just one tough mofo!

  8. Dave Coultas / Oct 2 2012

    Matt, sounds like you were underdressed on the first day. With the right clothes you should never get that (dangerously) cold.

    Great write up. The roads look amazing.

    • Matt / Oct 2 2012

      Thanks Dave. As for being underdressed, I honestly don’t reckon I was. I was layered right up but I was just totally soaked through … from that point, it was all downhill.

      • Marc Durdin / Oct 2 2012

        I’d agree with Matt — we were all pretty well rugged up, but once you get 60+ km/h winds with sleet, you are just going to get wet, and then cold. Add in a 10 minute descent, and all of a sudden you are really, really cold. I’ve ridden in those conditions in Hobart many times (as a commuter cyclist with no other transport option at the time) and it always sucks. When it gets a couple degrees colder, it’s actually often better, as it is snow rather than sleet, and as long as you can keep most of the snow out of your neckline, you can stay reasonably dry.

        • Matt / Oct 2 2012

          I feel cold just reading this. Brr.

    • Blair / Oct 3 2012

      I was in Hobart on Saturday (not part of the ride, just a weekender) and the conditions were way more extreme than Matt has described. Nothing was going to stop that wind and rain outside the hand of God

  9. David / Oct 2 2012

    Another article with so much Wow factor thrown in. Hobart has got plenty going for it, Salamanca Place, Cascade Brewery, etc…

    I think a good dirty dozen course has a mixture of short burst climbs (think Wright Ave) mixed in with a longer grind or 2. I think that allows people to “race” a bit more than stright out grind-fest. The thinking is already coming for the next Melbourne Dirty Dozen, I will work to deliver a combination of scenery, brutality and above all – fun.

    This Hobart ride, was another level of brutal for sure. Serious Kudos to the 10 who started and the 8 who finished.

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